Packing school lunches is a balancing act. If it looks too healthy, they won’t touch it. Too much junk food and they’re sleepy during class.
Engage your kids
“One key to packing a healthy school lunch is communication with the child,” said Len Saunders, an exercise physiologist and author of Keeping Kids Fit. “Get them involved. Let them have input, and empower them with choices that will get them excited about their meal.”
Saunders, who has created dozens of national health and fitness programs to fight childhood obesity, believes a healthy compromise with kids is important.
“It is a give and take. If the parent makes all the decisions, yet these decisions do not excite the child, most of the lunch will end in the trash,” Saunders said.
Involve your children in the selection and preparation process and it’s more likely they’ll eat what’s packed, he said.
More than 40 percent of children today eat a packed lunch. Some are healthy; others are not. Unfortunately, just like cafeteria meals, kids don’t always eat them.
No more PB&J in a brown bag
Children don’t impress easy these days, so parents must get innovative. For starters, choose fun, custom lunch bags that kids want to bring to school. Insulated styles help keep cold foods at a safe temperature.
Bento boxes can make food more appealing to children, according to parent and Holistic Health Coach Roxanne King.
“I found that using a bento box-style lunch box makes it easy to pack and fun for the kids,” she said.
Bento boxes are the Japanese version of a lunch box. Foods in the single-serve containers are often carved into special shapes or neatly arranged in compartments.
King, also known as The Holistic Mama, said simple, one-ingredient foods are best for school lunches.
“The key items to pack are simple, fresh foods like chicken, turkey, carrot sticks with hummus to dip, apple slices, berries,” King said.
She packs her children’s lunches because her family has food allergies.
“Our school has an amazing lunch program with organic food but it’s not always gluten-free,” King explained.
More tips for healthy school lunches:
- Use cookie cutters to make sandwiches, cheese and other items into fun shapes.
- Slice sandwiches diagonally; kids eat them better that way!
- Remove plastic coverings or seals on packages to save kids time at lunch.
- Include at least one fruit and vegetable each day.
- Pack water, flavored water or milk instead of sugar-sweetened drinks.
- Buy foods in bulk and separate them into individual servings for packing. Store-bought, single-serving packs are usually more expensive.
- Place jokes or supportive notes in your child’s lunch bag such as “Have a great day!
The United States Department of Agriculture offers this handy symbol as a guide to the five food groups and portion sizes for children and adults:
It’s nutrition and so much more
Children who help choose nutritious foods for their lunch will likely live healthier lives.
“Packing your children’s lunch helps build good nutrition habits, something that they don’t necessarily learn in school or in any other real-life situation,” said Elisabeth Almekinder, a public health nurse and educator for The Diabetes Council.
Learning how to eat healthy may be the most important lesson your child learns, she added.
“The tips and knowledge you offer to your children translate to the way they look and feel, and this is important for a developing child,” Almekinder said. “Recognizing proper nutrition is critical to preventing your child from obesity, diabetes and other related diseases to poor nutrition.”
For more great school lunch ideas and tips, browse Totally Promotional’s Back to School Pinterest Board!